Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

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There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

Ciao Bella

3501 Minnesota Dr. Bloomington, MN 55435 •(952) 841-1000ciaobellamn.com

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As business park restaurants go, Ciao Bella is tops. A dubious distinction for certain, but should you find yourself in the vicinity, don’t bother trucking all the way in to the city for some grub.

That’s not to say that everything is stellar, but I’ve eaten here at least a dozen times and thus have my order down to a science. First, I always start with their heirloom faro salad. It is so light and fresh and delicious. It makes me smile just thinking about it. But perhaps I’m smiling more as a Pavlovian response because what always follows is more on the heavy side. The Tagliatelle Rossa. Basically a variation on a Veal Bolognese that’s so consistently great you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pasta dish in the Twin Cities, and that includes the one with foie gras meatballs at Eatery 112.

Dessert is the only weak spot, as I have never had anything that I absolutely love, so quite often we head down the road to DQ and get a Blizzard.

Other plusses are the outdoor seating area which is very nice and the service has always been extremely friendly- but that’s to be expected pretty much everywhere I’ve been in Minneapolis.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Burger

Kalbi_Burger

Eatery 112 – Minneapolis, MN

Deceptively simple, this burger shines by simply combining two very well thought through toppings. The first comes in the form of its gooey brie, which they somehow magically prevent from making the burger soggy. The second, a vital part of the equation, the sweet bread and butter pickles on the side. You MUST put them on the burger. The interaction between the cheese and the pickles and the meat is divine. All house in an English muffin that manages to stay out of the way just enough to allow the ingredients to take center stage, but present enough to make its contribution felt.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

It’s all about the meat baby. The Black Label burger is the Mona Lisa of ground flesh. Some kind of crazy concoction of prime, and pork and veal and maybe even a little bone marrow folded in. Hard to say. But there is literally nothing else that special about this burger, and yet that patty will grab you by the taste buds, looks them in the eye, and make them its bitch.

Father’s Office – Santa Monica, CA

I know bold, sweeping statements always get you into hot water, but if I’m wrong on this one, boil me alive, because the fact remains, The Office Burger is the best burger on the face of the Earth. Yes, I went there. Granted I haven’t eaten ALL of the burgers on the face of the Earth, but I’m still pretty sure I’m right. Now, just caveat, however. If you are a burger purist, this is not your burger. This thing is a product of innovation. It starts with high quality prime topped with a blend of gruyere and gorgonzola. Then a layer of bacon and caramelized onion compote. Next comes watercress and finally a wonderful Portuguese roll to house its prowess. Now I know what you’re thinking, no tomato? No. No ketchup or mustard either. In fact, you can’t even ask for it, because the place doesn’t allow it. Perhaps a bit authoritarian for a burger joint, but I promise you will never miss these lesser burger crutches. This thing does just fine without. And therein lies its true greatness, and its rightful place at the top of burgerdom.